UBC Reports
November 28, 1996

Researchers probe alternative therapies

UBC researchers are playing a prominent role at the recently opened Tzu Chi Institute for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre.

The institute will conduct research on acupuncture, the use of herbs and other alternative therapies that are increasingly popular with patients but have not undergone the rigours of scientific testing.

Its establishment is also an acknowledgment of the increasingly multicultural nature of B.C.'s population, many of whom have different notions of health care.

Although the university is not an official partner of the institute, Dr. Wah Jun Tze, a professor in the Dept. of Pediatrics, is its president and Dr. Aubrey Tingle, director of research at BC's Children's Hospital and acting associate dean of Research in the Faculty of Medicine, is research director.

"Our goal is to integrate promising unconventional therapies into mainstream health care. Hopefully, through research and a scientific approach, effective complementary therapies can be recognized," said Tze.

The institute will serve as a bridge between conventional and non-conventional health practitioners by designing and putting into place ways of scientifically assessing alternative therapies, he said.

Tingle has set up a series of task forces to do this, calling on, among others, Health Care and Epidemiology Dept. Head Sam Sheps to look at research methods, Pharmaceutical Sciences Dean Frank Abbott to examine laboratory standardization and Research Services Director Richard Spratley to monitor research ethics.

As well, Tingle said about 30 faculty members from departments such as botany, rheumatology and family and nutritional sciences have approached him about taking part in institute research.

Research activities will include basic research, epidemiology, data analysis, product evaluation, experimental studies and clinical trials.

Five centres conducting clinical research projects will be established within the institute, investigating pain management and conducting lifestyle research in areas such as diet and exercise, acupuncture and cancer.

Patients will be treated only as part of one of the research projects, none of which is scheduled to begin until sometime next year.

A general centre will look at major health issues such as AIDS, arthritis, environmental disease and addictions. This centre will also investigate cultural and traditional health approaches, such as herbal medicine, homeopathy, First Nations remedies and ayurveda--an ancient East Indian system of healing.

The institute will also offer education and training programs, set up an information and resource centre and introduce scientifically proven complementary therapies into mainstream practice.

Tze received a commitment for a $6-million endowment from the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, the Canadian branch of an international charitable organization based in Taiwan. Vancouver Hospital will provide space, infrastructure support and a partnership grant and other Lower Mainland hospitals and cancer-research organizations are also offering support.